I know that I’m not alone in my grump about the holiday season, and wanted to give those who might share my feelings to have a little company today. For people who have recently (or even not so recently) lost loved ones, this time of year is especially painful. The anniversary of my father’s death immediately precedes the widely-recognized holiday season, so that I have not been as eager to celebrate for the last eight years as everyone else appears to be.
My identity as a Jew has been largely secular in nature for most of my adult life, and in conjunction with Hanukah not being a particularly big deal (religiously speaking, in comparison to other holidays) has led to my not really giving a shit about all the holiday season hubbub. Growing up, my parents did a great job of making the season fun and exciting, and I can even recall believing that I’d seen Santa come down into our basement. Upon telling my father this, he replied, “Hmmm. That seems unlikely. I bet it was Hanukah Harry that you saw.”
I spent the last three Christmases fulfilling every single Jew fantasy I could come up with, soaking up the cheer, songs, decorations, and booze that seem to meld together in one gooey, gentile festival. The new pajamas on Christmas Eve! The mounds of cookies and sugary treasures! The new toys and treats for the dogs, as if they had a clue about why they got so many all at once! I couldn’t get enough of it.
I picked out my first Christmas tree and savored every bit of its Piney goodness. I’d had no idea that people collect ornaments like trophies, carefully wrapped and documented from year to year. For those three winters I finally understood what all the fuss had been about, and found myself looking forward to the Holidays despite the rapidly growing lists of people for whom I would need to buy presents. Luckily, my own family has long since done away with such nonsense—we now prefer to save our money in place of filling each others’ homes with more cheap plastic garbage.
All the while, in the heap of dewy pink cheeks and brand new presents crowding my home, I had the suspicion that at some point, it would start to get really old. And it did. Call me bitter, call me scrooge, call me crazy—I don’t mind any of those labels. From the aftermath of Halloween until the hung-over first morning of the New Year, it seems that we allow ourselves to get swept up in the capitalistic brouhaha and unrealistic expectations of a snowy blissful eve, forgetting that the Holiday Season is often the most stressful and depressing time of year for many people.
Perhaps I am missing much of the point since, after all, I believe in neither Jesus nor his birthday, but it seems that the desire to spend and wrap and eat and drink, glosses over what this time should really be about. I know that there are lots of people who do give their time and money to charity, people who pray and love on their friends and family, and all of that is wonderful.
Let me be clear: I am not making any judgments about how other people choose to spend these days each year. All I am saying is that I personally do not buy into it, and refuse to carry any grand illusions about this time of year anymore. I much prefer the pagan ritual of acknowledging the changes that are happening in nature during the winter solstice, to welcome the transition and honor the beautiful season around me, without attaching any religious expectations to it. The pleasure I get from walking in the woods and watching the trees change and bare themselves is much longer-lasting than a shiny new thing. My mom always says that the most important things in life aren’t things, and I’m glad to be finally learning that she is right.
I might return to my Jewish roots and go out for some Chinese Food and a movie on Christmas, but that’s as far as I’m willing to extend myself. Who’s with me?